Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson said Thursday that Major League Soccer is likely dead in Utah thanks to the Utah Legislature.
On Wednesday state lawmakers approved a bill that forbids any city from using redevelopment agency dollars to help fund sports stadiums. The bill cut close to Salt Lake City's heart, because the city had proposed using as much as $15 million to $20 million in RDA cash to purchase Block 22, near 600 South and Main streets, so Real Salt Lake could build a new soccer-specific stadium there.
Given the legislation, that proposal is all but dead, Anderson said.
"It's very unlikely, if not impossible, for the city to purchase the property on Block 22," he said.
Moreover, other Utah cities, like Murray, which had offered to build stadium infrastructure with RDA funds, aren't likely to put together stadium packages, either, Anderson said.
Without those funding packages, Anderson figures Real Salt Lake will be packing its bags in the near future.
"When we bid adieu to this Major League Soccer team and it goes to a state that recognizes the tremendous economic and non-economic advantages of major league sports teams and facilities, I think that we will all look back on this legislation with tremendous regret," Anderson said.
While the legislation, sponsored by Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, targeted the proposed Real Salt Lake stadium, Anderson maintains every city looking to attract a major or minor league ball team will be made to suffer.
"The prohibition against cities utilizing RDA funds for stadiums is going to have very negative, far-reaching implications for the entire state," he said.
The mayor said he's thankful the state was able to build a few stadiums and arenas, like the Delta Center, the E Center and Franklin Covey Field, before the legislation took hold.
As for Real Salt Lake, CEO Dean Howes said the organization remains committed to Utah but is now regrouping following Bramble's legislation. Instead of just looking at two sites in Murray and Salt Lake City, they are looking at many sites throughout the Salt Lake Valley. They have canceled a MLS-imposed deadline where they were supposed to have selected a site for their new stadium.
"The state coming into this was quite frankly a surprise to us," Howes said. Still, "we're committed to Salt Lake City. It's the pathway we're not very clear on."
Bramble did not return a call for comment.
In Murray, Mayor Dan Snarr agrees the new legislation makes it difficult for a stadium deal to work. While Murray is moving forward with the Fireclay RDA area at 4500 South and State Street any stadium in the district wouldn't be eligible for RDA funds.
"The time may come when they (Real Salt Lake) just say it's not worth our time, forget it," Snarr said.
While city leaders may be disappointed, some Murray residents were happy with the new law. Resident Lee Brinton said the city should not have to subsidize a private project of any kind.
"If it makes sense to do the project, they should do it on their own nickel," he said. "There's a big question mark as to whether this thing even makes sense financially for the city."
Howes notes that virtually every major sports stadium in America is built, at least partially, with public funds. While some have been boondoggles, others have been great economic generators for the surrounding community.
Howes said his organization needs to do a better job educating residents and the Salt Lake County Council about the benefits a new Real Salt Lake stadium could have. Howes said the team is still seeking to place the stadium on a countywide bond vote in 2005 or 2006. Then voters could decide whether they want their tax dollars to support the stadium, Howes said.
For its first two years, the team will play at the University of Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium. Howes maintains the 45,000-seat stadium is too large and the field isn't configured correctly for soccer.The team, he said, needs a smaller, 22,000-seat arena to create the proper atmosphere to build a fan base within the community.